Title:Review objects, review bindings and review authentication
Last modified:2014-07-03 00:37:55 UTC (Thu, 03 July 2014)
Author:Raphael ‘kena’ Poss, Sebastian Altmeyer, Roeland Douma
Source:scep0107.rst (fp:in0JklRqwS9CQztytwqx0mY0h5WDl-17-PloNZaDts04Pg)


The Structured Commons network is composed of a structured network of documents and accompanying review objects. When reviews are published, the content of reviews can be used to filter and sort search results by users (typically readers), in lieu of the traditional ranking of works based on publisher-determined and often inaccurate "impact factors" [1].

This SCEP provides standard guidelines and recommendations for structuring reviews in the Structured Commons network.


Peer review, the evaluation of scientific outcomes by peers, is a fundamental, defining aspect of modern science. It serves to acknowledge the work of peers, assessing methodologies, checking results, providing feedback, etc. This aspect is so strong that the evaluation of a scientific work, and by extension the reputation and performance of its author(s), is largely defined by the outcome of peer review as much as the impact (true or perceived) of the scientific work itself.


The content of the following sections can be summarized as follows:

  • structure the metadata of reviews whenever peer review is organized, according to the guidelines described in Common model below.
  • List the object fingerprints of reviewed scientific works and of their reviews in review outcomes.
  • disseminate the metadata (including relationships and fingerprints) widely, soon after publication, to ensure redundancy of the structural links.
  • obtain and circulate certificates of existence for review outcomes, to authenticate the structural links.

Peer review in the Structured Commons model

The Structured Commons model embraces peer review, while innovating on the actors of the peer review process. Whereas, historically, publishers have been responsible for selecting reviewers, collecting reviews and selecting works for publication based on review outcomes, the Structured Commons model proposes that:

  • all works are potentially published, regardless of review outcomes;
  • review objects become publishable, too;
  • individual reviewers and review committees take ownership of the review process;
  • readers, and by extension anyone interested in the ranking of scientific works, uses published review objects to rank and filter works in search results.

This vision removes the need for third parties (eg. industrial publishers) to organize peer review review, but the organization of peer review can remain largely unchanged:

  1. groups of scholars self-appoint themselves with a common goal, the publication of a collection of works related to a common topic (the theme of a journal issue or conference in the traditional model), at a set publication date (issue date or conference date), and subject to a predetermined review process (open, blind, double-blind, etc). In doing so, they define a publication event;
  2. the group publishes and disseminates a "call for submissions" to experts in their field, announcing the theme, publication date and review process;
  3. upon submissions by experts, the group members (or other distinguished experts that they appoint as reviewers on their behalf) follow the review process, to create reviews of the submitted works;
  4. upon the previously agreed publication date, the group announces and release the review outcomes.

The motivation for publishing the review outcomes is twofold. For the submitters, it provides the direct feedback of peer review. For the rest of the world, it creates an historical record of the opinion of the reviewers about the works that were submitted. This record can also be subsequently used to filter and present lists of works when other scholar search for materials relevant to their study, in replacement for the traditional "ranking" implicitly performed by impact factors.

Diversity of review processes and outcomes

Scholars may, and often do, desire to exploit different review processes and thus reach qualitatively different review outcomes, depending on circumstances.

To start with, existing journals and peer-reviews conferences use a threshold-based review process: its goal is to separate "rejected" from "accepted" papers, by filtering submissions using a threshold value on a common evaluation scale. This process already exists in different variants, depending on how reviewer neutrality was organized: a blind review process ensures that authors do not know the identity of reviewers, a double-blind process ensures that neither authors nor reviewers know each other identity, etc.

Meanwhile, a diversity of other review processes and outcomes are also used, possibly simultaneously, around scientific works, for example:

  • the outcome of a ranking process is the full list of submissions, ranked according to a common scale.
  • the outcome of a discussion process is a mapping from all submissions to one or more comments about them.
  • the outcome of a tagging process is a mapping from all submissions to one or more tags that identify their topic of study, area of expertise, etc.

Depending on context (eg. the applicability of a scientific work, the current tradition in the community of experts, etc.), different scholar communities will likely choose for different types of review outcomes, and different ways to reach these outcomes. These preferences may even evolve over time.

This is why the Structured Commons network registers the organization of the review process alongside all review outcomes, so that reviews can be interpreted and placed back in their context long after the particular technology or tacit know-how has been lost.

Forward-compatibility and decentralized characterization

The Structured Commons network captures review processes and outcomes after they have been used and produced, by describing processes and reviews using metadata and linking both the reviewed objects and their reviews using their fingerprints.

The fact that review relationships are "encapsulated" using meta-objects in the Structured Commons network enables two adoption avenues simultaneously:

  • the integration of Structured Commons features in existing review platforms (eg. EasyChair) can be implemented as an extension of the platform, which is usually easier to achieve and to deploy than pervasive changes or changes that disrupt user habits;

  • meanwhile, any outcome produced by systems not aware of the Structured Commons network can also be encapsulated in the Structured Commons network after they are produced.

    This second point means that review processes can be organized outside of the Structured Commons model, reviewers may be oblivious of the Structured Commons vision, and review objects may be edited and maintained in systems that do not support Structured Commons concepts directly, and yet the entire outcome of the review process can be described inserted in the Structured Commons network, a posteriori, and the value of reviews exploited for sorting and filtering works in search queries.


It may be tempting to codify the registration of reviews in the Structured Commons network by first designing a fixed set of "standard review processes", give them centrally managed "identifiers" and then mandate that "platforms must implement the standard processes to be recognized as valid Structured Commons implementations" and/or "must report the standard process identifier in review objects". It may also be tempting to codify a single "schema" to create review objects and then mandate that "objects must be compatible with this schema to be recognized as a valid Structured Commons review object".

This approach would be undesirable for two main reasons:

  • it would concentrate the responsibility to design review processes in the hands of a few (namely, those people in charge of the standardization), which runs contrary to the Structured Commons vision;
  • it would be a barrier to adoption, as many other participants in scientific publishing already have their well-established best practices on how to organize peer review.

The approach described below avoids these two pitfalls.

The proposed approach is also storage-agnostic: the structured metadata of reviews can be distributed, copied, served using a variety of channels (including paper-and-ink, if need be), independently from a single organization.

Common model

The process to capture peer review in the Structured Commons network is to create an object dictionary containing the following fields:

  • subject: a collection of works being reviewed,
  • annotation: a collection of reviews about the subject,
  • meta: a description of the review process.

Such an object dictionary is called a review binding in the Structured Commons network.

The subject field can either refer to [3] a single work by fingerprint, or to a dictionary that refers to multiple works. If a dictionary is used, the names in the subject dictionary must not be significant: any references to members of the subject field in the annotation or meta fields must use Structured Common fingerprints.

Names in the subject field can be constructed arbitrarily, for example using the advisory title and author list of the referred objects.

The annotation field can either refer to [3] a single review object, or to a dictionary that refers to multiple review objects. If a dictionary is used, the names in the reviews dictionary may be significant, depending on the review process as indicated by the meta field.

The meta field provides information about the review process and how to intepret the structure of the annotation field. It must contain at least the following fields:

The starting date (and optionally time) of the review process, encoded using ISO 8601 [4] (eg. YYYY-MM-DD);
The ending date (and optionally time) of the review process.
The preferred title for the review binding as a whole. This is typically the conference or journal name with year in the traditional model, or "Reviews for " followed by the subject title and the time period, for self-published review bindings referring to a single object.
An informative description of the entity (person, group or organization) responsible for creating the review binding (ie. not the authors of the works listed in the subject field, unless they are also reviewers or in charge of producing the review binding). For example, this may be the list of program committee members in a conference, the list of authors of the objects listed in the annotation field, the name of the software responsible for importing review outcomes automatically from an external source into the Structured Commons network, etc.
An informative description of the process used to produce the objects referred to via the annotation field, and how to interpret the contents of the annotation field. Other SCEPs may/will provide guidelines and best practices for structuring the info field.

Review objects (members of the annotation field) should, whenever possible and relevant, refer to the objects in the subject field using their Structured Commons fingerprint. These structural links can be subsequently used by Structured Commons query engines to present contextual information to users in search results.


To authenticate review bindings, the standard Structured Commons methods apply:

  • the authors of review bindings should seek and register certificates of existence [5] for the entire review binding object within the announced review process interval (start and end fields);
  • the fingerprint of review binding objects should be disseminated into a variety of media, themselves authentified via certificate of existence close to the announced review process interval;
  • search results for queries onto the Structured Commons network must present the known certificates of existence alongside review bindings to users;
  • over time, directories of "reputable" review binding authors or processes will appear, together with education materials for users of the Structured Commons network that helps them construct relevant search queries.

In the particular case where review bindings are created a posteriori on top of a collection of review objects produced outside of the Structured Commons network, and where the existing review objects already contain all the information needed to construct the review binding object, any certificate of existence that attests separately all review objects in the collection can be used as certificate of existence for the review binding itself.

This extra possibility makes it possible to reuse and authenticate past review outcomes in the Structured Commons network, without the need for back-dated certificates of existence (as back-dated CoEs would violate the Structured Commons contract on CoEs).

Long-term preservation

In the traditional model, a "journal issue" or "conference proceedings" is a document that cristallizes the outcome of a publication event. This is achieved by compiling all accepted works into a single book, booklet or magazine, that is subsequentely widely disseminated in libraries around the world, usually using paper-and-ink.

Even without following the traditional model, the Structured Commons model acknowledges that this cristallization is essential: long after the publication event has passed, in particular after its organizers have disbanded or have forgotten about their involvement, and the web sites related to the event have themselves disappeared [2], the distributed repository of copies of archived collections should serve as witness of the review outcomes; so that anyone can stay free to compare copies across multiple libraries and satisfy themselves that they list an accepted work, follow a known review process, were published at a known date, etc.

This is why the creators of review binding objects should seek wide dissemination and long-term perservation of the review bindings, and technology platforms around the Structured Commons network should give extra attension to the long-time persistence of all review bindings.

Query engines and result filtering

The goal of review bindings is to influence the ranking and filtering of search results in query engines, when users query the Structured Commons network for "all works referred to by review bindings" or "all works for which a predicate holds on known review bindings".

To ensure that the network remains impervious to malicious insertions of illegitimate review bindings, the following extra measures must be taken:

  • query engines and/or users must account for/use certificates of existence, and give higher precedence to review bindings with certificates of existence falling in the announced start-end interval.
  • query engines and/or users must give higher precedence to review bindings that are referred to by other objects, with certificates of existence closer to the end date.
  • there must exist a trusted oracle that authentifies new review bindings for a limited amount of time after their publication, sufficiently long to accrue references from other objects in the Structured Commons network (eg. a trusted web site listing valid review binding fingerprints can be available for at least a year or two after the objects are published).

The requirement in this second assumption is motivated as follows: as explained in SCEP 102 [5], section "Very long term durability", once a network of citations with certificates of existence exists, the trusted oracle can be removed and the network of citations can serve as substitute to authenticate objects.

Once these two measures are taken, fake reviews are blocked from impacting search results significantly:

  • fake review bindings created after the end date of "good" review binding cannot obtain a valid certificate of existence that falls in the time interval;

  • fake review bindings created before the end date of a "good" review binding, with valid certificates of existence:

    • if the fake review binding is injected in the network soon after the end date: the trusted oracle will prevent the accretion of a citation network, while the "good" object will accrue citations;
    • if the fake review binding is injected in the network long after the end date, eg. when the trusted oracle is not available any more: from then on, it will be impossible for the fake object to accrue older citations than those that already exist for the "good" object.

    In both cases, the "good" object is favored in search results, because it has the earlier network of attested citations.


[1]Björn Brembs, Katherine Button, and Marcus Munafò. Deep impact: unintended consequences of journal rank. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7(291), 2013. DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00291.
[3](1, 2) See the definition of "refer to" in SCEP 101. (
[4]ISO 8601:2004. "Representation of dates and times". See also
[5](1, 2) SCEP 102. "Certificates of existence". (